Vetements has had a shelf life from the very beginning, but that was sort of the point, wasn’t it? The Parisian fashion brand, founded by Georgian brothers Demna and Guram Gvasalia, was so on the ball with what youth culture wanted from their wardrobe that it lit a fire under the ass of the conservative, luxury-wear establishment several seasons in a row. It was, at its peak, the one to beat: the spoof-spawning, headline-attracting label that didn’t give a fuck about the codes of the industry. Nobody could move without seeing a Vetements trend; once upon a time, split-hem-two-tone denim and neverending sleeves were everywhere.
But then Demna, the collective’s creative force, became the creative director of Balenciaga, and hype for the collections at that storied Kering-owned fashion house soon overshadowed the work of his formative baby. For the past four years, Vetements has continued to create and sell collections to an audience of loyalists who love what they do, albeit forcefully detached from the world they successfully penetrated. They moved to Switzerland for both cultural and tax reasons. (“I’m done with the whole showing-off in fashion and the superficial glamour,” Guram said at the time.) Perhaps they questioned whether or not their high cost, low production run policy was working for them after this very site claimed that nobody was buying what they made anymore. And they exchanged shows for lookbooks before re-staging them again, most recently in Paris’ biggest McDonalds restaurants for a fun exercise in corporate satire.
Either way, earlier this week, fashion’s enfant terrible Demna Gvasalia stepped down from his position as Chief Creative Officer at the brand. “I started Vetements because I was bored of fashion, and against all odds fashion did change once and forever since Vetements appeared,” he said in a statement. “So I feel that I have accomplished my mission of a conceptualist and design innovator. Vetements has matured into a company that can evolve its creative heritage into a new chapter on its own.”
Was it surprising? Not really. While Demna and Vetements will always be fashion industry synonyms, and it’s strange to see the seminal creative director of a brand step back after just five years after the launch of it, the very nature of Vetements demands movement and reinvention. It requires attentive eyes and undivided attention — a perceptive knowledge of what’s bound to come next. With Demna doing a stellar job of reinventing a legendary fashion house like Balenciaga in such a dramatic way, it’s hard not to see Vetements as his modest passion project. Vetements becoming a major, longstanding player in the luxury fashion world was once a strong possibility. Now, it's almost became a victim of its own hype; forever expected to make jaws drop and critics uncomfortable with each new collection, instead of being just about the clothes.
The business may be doing well, according to Guram and co, but in terms of cultural clout the fanfare has died down somewhat. Perhaps this is because many other more established designers have learned that satire and winking nods to consumerist, narcissistic culture are fun things to toy with. (It’s hard to say if collections like Viktor and Rolf’s Spring/Summer 2019 couture collection would have made it past the sketching stage if it wasn’t for Vetements’ slogan obsession.) But maybe it’s because the brand has remained steadfastly rebellious throughout its existence. We might attest to loving anarchy, but when said anarchists don’t sit down after their time in the spotlight, it’s construed as attention-seeking. When Vetements staged their breakout show at Parisian sex club Le Depot in 2015, critics went wild. When they pulled off the McDonalds stunt for Autumn/Winter 2019, there were a few more eyerolls mixed in with the standard fanfare.
The question on everybody’s lips is who will take the reins from a game-changer like Demna and move Vetements into a new era – but isn’t that too pragmatic a vision of Vetements’ future? It’s a difficult thing to ponder because the brand’s ethos is rooted so strongly in shaping and then subverting the current zeitgeist. We can’t tell what Vetements will look like in 10 years’ time because it’s impossible to predict; even the brand themselves don’t know it. The codes of Vetements and what Demna brought to it don’t apply to any other creative director working at a major brand on the fashion week calendar right now, and so it’s unlikely you’ll see a recognizable figure slip into Demna’s shoes anytime soon.
If anything, Vetements can see Demna’s exit as a clean slate and an opportunity for exciting new beginnings. Perhaps the collective of designers he started the brand with could run it the way it used to: with many people doing the work and taking credit for it? Perhaps that peacocking that Guram referred to in his Switzerland move statement could be taken literally? Maybe someone’s about to step into the role Demna left vacant who will retain anonymous throughout their reign?
Many are treating Demna’s departure as a death sentence for the French-Swiss-Georgian brand, but one thing we do know is that Vetements hasn’t quite hit rigor mortis yet. Guram’s statement, released alongside his brother's, is imbued with a sense of optimism: “Vetements has always been a collective of creative minds,” he told Womenswear Daily. “We will continue to push the boundaries even further, respecting codes and the authentic values of the brand, and keep on supporting honest creativity and genuine talent.”
If they’re planning on sticking to the fashion week schedule, we’ll know by mid-January exactly what that future might look like. The brand might not be for forever, but let it be known that it won’t fizzle out and fall from grace. When the time comes – and truthfully, we’re praying that won’t be anytime soon – Vetements won’t go down without a fight.
On this week’s episode of The Dropcast, we are joined by Hussein Suleiman and Abderr Trabsini, co-founders of Amsterdam-based fashion brand Daily Paper. The partners blend their African and Dutch cultures to create heritage-infused streetwear pieces grounded in contemporary design. Listen below.